IAM1719 – CEO Hires the Differently Abled Individuals for Ice Cream Business

Podcast Interview with Robin Rinearson

Why it was selected for “CBNation Architects”: It's awesome to hear why Robin started her business and everything she launched and how she approached hiring. There's also a reminder of creating a way out of no way. It was sad to hear Jake's story but I loved how Robin decided to be the change rather than allow life to happen to Jake and the other differently-abled people. I also love her resilient and maybe even defiant mentality of making sure there will be a success.

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Previous Episode:

Robin Rinearson Teaser 00:00

It's not for me, it's for Jake. I said I will do whatever it takes to keep him busy, to give him a reason to get up in the morning, to give him a social life, to give him a reason to function. And I said, and while I'm at it, I can help a bunch of other kids.

Intro 00:15

Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and grow your business from successful entrepreneurs, startups, and CEOs without listening to a long, long, long interview? If so, you've come to the right place. Gresham Harkless values your time and is ready to share with you precisely the information you're in search of.

This is the I AM CEO Podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:42

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the I AM CEO podcast and I appreciate you listening to this episode. If you've been listening this year, you know that we hit 1600 episodes at the beginning of this year. We're doing something a little bit different where we are repurposing our favorite episodes around certain categories, topics or as I like to call them, business pillars that we think are going to be extremely impactful for CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business owners, and what I like to call the CB nation architects who are looking to level up their organizations.

This month we are focused on technology. We're a technology company that does dot, dot, dot. Technology is no longer an afterthought or something that you might do and is actually a core part of your business. If you are a real estate investor, you're using it. If you're a financial firm, if you're a cleaning company, author, or speaker, you are using technology. If you are in any business you are using technology, and if you're not, then you're probably going to be disrupted by an organization that is.

So this month we are going to look into purposing episodes that are around technology, whether that be firms or organizations that are actually using and investing in technology as a core part of their products and services, or potentially those individuals that are using and leveraging CEO hacks and CEO nuggets that center around technology and sharing ways that we can leverage it as well. Remember that you are a technology company that does Sit back and enjoy this special episode of the I am CEO podcast.

Hello, hello, hello, this is Gresh from the I AM CEO podcast. I have a very special guest on the show today. I Robin Rinearson of Jake's Ice Cream.

Robin, super excited to have you on the show.

Robin Rinearson 02:13

Thanks, I'm delighted to be here. Thank you for asking.

Gresham Harkless 02:15

Yes, excited to have you on and hear about all the awesome things that you're doing. And before we jump into that interview, I want to read a little bit more about Robin so you can hear about some of those things.

Robin is a retired optometrist who specializes in developmental disorders. She has opened an ice cream parlor, located in Falls Church, Virginia, employing around 20 individuals who are differently abled, along with several conventionally abled people. The business model recognizes that it sometimes takes help from a job coach or a team member to get things done.

The entire staff is expected to learn all the integral pieces of working in this business.

Robin, super excited to have you on the show again. Are you ready to speak to the I AM CEO community?

Robin Rinearson 02:53

I am. I am.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 02:54

Awesome. Well, let's do it then. So to kick everything off, I wanted to hear how everything got started, what I like to call your CEO story.

Robin Rinearson 03:01

As you've already said, I have a background in working with people that are differently abled. My postdoc is in pediatrics and developmental vision. Well, my postdoc was on Down Syndrome specifically in their visual abilities, capabilities, and what have you. That started around the time when some of the early intervention programs were starting so people were finally recognizing that young people with Down Syndrome were not necessarily incapable of learning, reading, and doing math functioning in a school environment.

Because prior to that, a lot of doctors told families to institutionalize their kids, which I think is horrific. But when I was in graduate school, they were starting all of these infant training, infant STEM programs, and things like that. And that just fascinated me. I graduated in 1977, so that was about 45 years ago. So it's been a long time since I've been working in my field. I happen to have a 29-year-old nephew who has cerebral palsy and Jake is his name, and that's who the ice cream parlor is named after.

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Jake was working for a company for about eight years when he got out of high school and when Covid hit, that company let the 18 people with special needs go and they maintained the rest of their business without making accommodations for masking and vaccination and social distancing and all the other stuff. It aggravated me, particularly because we kept our practice open the entire time and made all the adjustments with air purifiers and taking temperatures and masking and keeping people socially distanced.

I thought, if we can do it in a very busy practice with four doctors, certainly these people can do it. It's not that hard. So it started to really aggravate me. So my broker from Oppenheimer Roland Amore has been bugging me for the last five years to open an ice cream parlor as a retirement business and I used to just laugh at him and say, Roland, you should understand that I don't need a retirement business. I'm well enough invested. I'm good to go when I'm finished practicing, I'm done. I don't need another job. And he says, but Rob, it's a great business. And I went, leave me alone.

Anyway, the summer that Jake lost his job Roland happened to be in the office because he's also one of my patients. And he said, Robin, when I get done here today, I'm going over to take a look at an ice cream parlor that's not too far from here, that's going out of business. He lives in the DC area near Bethesda. and he said, you know what, after I've driven down here,  I don't know that I really wanna drive to Virginia every single day. He says, maybe you would be interested. And I looked at him and I said, well, Maybe I would be. And he goes, that's a big change of attitude. And I said, well, yeah. And he says, well, what made you change your mind?

He says, it's a great idea and I said, it's not for me, it's for Jake. And I said I will do whatever it takes to keep him busy, to give him a reason to get up in the morning, to give him a social life, to give him a reason to function. And I said, and while I'm at it, I can help a bunch of other kids. So, I went over and talked to the people who were going out of business and I was able to work out a purchase agreement with them to buy their business. So over the year that Jake lost his job and until we opened the ice cream shop here, I was still practicing. And, as people are coming and going, because I've known these people forever, we would tell stories about things and they'd say, well, what's going on now?

And I go, well, my nephew lost his job and I'm really aggravated about it, but I'm gonna open this ice cream parlor. And I said, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, so several of the kids said, I need a job. Would you hire me And the kids that didn't ask for a job, sometimes their parents would ask if I would hire their kid. So long story short, I had 11 of my patients already hired before we started. We also do special ice cream flavors. We make our own ice cream here on the premises. And we make it in five-gallon batches. So it's artisanal. Everything is done separately. Generally, we're doing scoops and cones and sundaes and things like that.

We also make ice cream cakes. We have six-inch cakes, and nine-inch cakes. I now have a nine, 10 by 13-inch rectangular cake. I had to do a special whereas Waldo cake for somebody's birthday, so I had to go get the mold for that. So making ice cream cakes is very different than baking a cake. So it has to go into a silicone mold, so it freezes up to the right shape, and it takes a couple of days between, putting one layer in and freezing it and then putting another layer in and freezing it so it's not just mush.

And then you unmold it and decorate it off you go. So anyhow, so it's fun. It's fun. We're doing the things and the kids are having a great time and all the rejects, the things that don't come out well, we give to the kids to take home, so they're generally happy that we have rejects.

I'm not happy.

Gresham Harkless 07:52

Do you feel like that's, I call it your secret sauce? It could be for you personally, the organization, combination of both. But do you feel your ability to be able to see and understand that and meet people where they are? Do you think that's what sets you apart in the organization apart and makes it unique?

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Robin Rinearson 08:06

I think probably, and for me, I would like to say that for the most part, it's second nature for me to think it, to plan. I'm a planner, I'm a doer. I'm very optimistic about things. I refuse to fail. And so you can put an obstacle in the way, I'll find a way to go over it or round it or under it, and I just take a look at the people that work for me and go, okay, if we have an obstacle here, we'll find a way around it.

We'll find a way for you to succeed at doing this. Don't sweat it. Let's just go. So, that's the way I just have always been, that's my personality. So it wasn't something I had to think about. And so there are some times when people come in here and they will make a suggestion, it could be better if you did it this way. Okay, fine. I'm open to suggestions. So we'll give just about anything a try.

The worst that'll happen is it won't work. Oh, well, I'll go back to doing it the way I did it before.

Gresham Harkless 08:55


Robin Rinearson 08:55

No big deal. The best that'll happen is that suggestion will move it faster, make it easier, and be much more efficient. Okay. I'm game.

Gresham Harkless 09:05

There you go. I love that. And especially when you have that culture and how it permeates everything that you're doing, whether you're talking with clients, of course, you're doing everything you know, and having conversations and thinking about different ways to do things with your team, so absolutely appreciate that.

So I wanted to switch gears a little bit and I wanted to ask you for what I call a CEO hack. So this could be like an app, a book, or a habit that you have, but what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

Robin Rinearson 09:30

A bit of a logistics expert, and I try to anticipate where we're gonna need things before we run out. I am not the person who takes the last roll of toilet paper and then doesn't say anything. Okay? So I'm very much a planner, but I'm not obsessive about it. I just consider myself to be extraordinarily observant about things. And I'll come in the morning and I'll take a look around and see we're low on this, that, and the other thing. And I have an idea. Two, three weeks out, what kinds of things we're gonna be working on.

And I'll think, okay, I need them, I'm gonna need this in two weeks. I might need it even sooner than that. So I try to anticipate and work out the logistics of things ahead of time. I don't like management by crisis intervention. If I had this to do all over again, would I do it this way? Probably but I know a lot more now than I did before and I wasn't able to anticipate cause I had no idea what I was getting into. So, for the next go-round, I can anticipate, I actually know what I'm getting into and I can very quickly make decisions. That's a go-no way.

So I can take a look around, I can make a judgment about the property area and see, yes, the rent is great for this particular place, but there's no business here. What's the draw? What's gonna bring people in? All right. You can't be on the backside of a building in the middle of no place and make a go of it unless you've been there for a long time and word of mouth gets it out. There are places that are holes in the wall that work, but that's not a good way to start. It's not the most successful thing. So, if somebody gave you the space for free, you might wanna start at the back of a building, but, Short of that. No.

Gresham Harkless 11:25

Right. Well, that's so funny that you said it because that actually was gonna be my next question. I call them CEO nuggets, which are kind of like things that you might give as a word of wisdom or a piece of advice.

I often say it's something if you hopped into a time machine, you might tell your younger business self. What are some of the nuggets that you might tell your younger business self or even tell somebody else who is maybe looking to start a business?

Robin Rinearson 11:45

Well, You have to be flexible when you start a business. You also have to anticipate that things are gonna cost probably three times more than what you thought it was gonna cost.

Saving until it hurts is probably what you should tell your younger self because a lot of young people don't think about getting older and what they're gonna need if you have invested. Well, if you've saved properly to the degree that you have an income where you can do that instead of living hand to mouth, then you'll be all the better down the road. And then you can do things like this in your retirement.

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You can open another business or you can go travel, you can go live someplace else for six months out of the year and not be pinched financially. So I'm happy with the fact that I can do this. And I can do it again. But I'm gonna do it smarter financially the next time. Not that I don't have the money to spend on a second location, I do, but I now know economies of scale. So there you go, that's me looking to save every nickel.

Gresham Harkless 12:41

Yeah. And so, I wanted to ask you now my absolute favorite question, which is the definition, of what it means to be a CEO. We're hoping to have different quote and quote CEOs on this show.

So, Robin, what does being a CEO mean to you?

Robin Rinearson 12:51

It means you do everything. You're like a mom or a dad. You're the chief cook and bottle washer. You're responsible for everything, for the financial stability of the place that you have. You're picking up the slack when people don't come to work.

So for instance, today my job coach for eight kids that are gonna be working today is off because it's a federal holiday. We're open. It's a busy day for us. I'm the job coach today, and while I'm here talking to you, I called in a parent volunteer to take my place so that I could walk away from them and talk to you.

So you know when you are the CEO you're everything. Paying attention to those little bitty things. As my dad used to say, pennies make dollars. If you look at the little stuff, big stuff don't really happen. If you let the little stuff go, all of those little bitty things are gonna chew away at everything and eventually the whole house of cards is gonna fall.

So pay attention to the little bitty things as the CEO that's what you are, sweeping up underneath stuff, moving things out of the way, lifting things, looking up under here, did this get done? Did that get done? You're you're playing sweep around everything.

Gresham Harkless 14:00

Absolutely, and I definitely appreciate that. I appreciate your time even more. What I wanted to do now was pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know. And of course, how best people can get ahold of you. Come for a cup a scoop or a cup or a cone of ice cream as well too, and find out about all the awesome things you and your team are working on.

Robin Rinearson 14:18

So we are located at the Barcroft Plaza Shopping Center, which is 6353 Columbia Pike in Falls Church, Virginia. We're at the corner of Columbia Pike and Lancon Road.

So what I decided to do, when people ask us for a donation, I say, well, if you're gonna do an auction, we will participate in an auction where you can offer a flyer that says, create your own ice cream flavor. I tell them it's a value of $70 and they can bid on this particular item and whoever wins the auction for you guys, you give us the name, they will talk to my manager and me, and they'll tell us what flavor they wanna make. We'll get all the stuff together. They can come to the shop and they can help weigh the stuff and make it, and they can take four plants home with them when they go.

And so they get the experience of learning how to make ice cream, learning how to weigh it out. Learning how to pack a pint. They get to take the four pints home and then we sell the rest of it. So it's not a dead loss to us. We, you have to be creative. When you're given something away, you've given it away. And if you're giving away a particular item, it's a dead loss to you. So you have to find some ways. This is where I tend to think outside of the box. I try to find a way where I can give something, but it's not a dead loss to us.

So here we go.

Gresham Harkless 15:36

Awesome, awesome, awesome. Well, I love the impact that you're having and all the awesome things that you're doing. Of course, to make it even easier, we'll have the links and information, the show notes as well too so that everybody can follow up with you, and I hope you have a phenomenal rest of the day.

Robin Rinearson 15:47

Thank you, you too. I appreciate your time.

Outro 15:49

Thank you for listening to the I AM CEO podcast, powered by CB Nation and Blue 16 media. Tune in next time and visit us at I AM CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community. Check out the latest and greatest apps, books, and habits to level up your business at

This has been the I AM CEO podcast with Gresham Harkless, Jr. Thank you for listening.


Dave Bonachita - CBNation Writer

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(, podcasts, ( and videos ( CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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